For months, Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign has counted on a big performance on Super Tuesday, when delegates were up for grabs in 11 nominating contests. After it racked up a big win in New Hampshire and came away with virtual ties in Iowa and Nevada—and lost disastrously in South Carolina—the senator from Vermont was quick to point out that on March 1, voters "will pick 10 times more pledged delegates on one day than were selected in the four early states so far in this campaign." And on March 1, his campaign got shellacked.
In five Southern states, where African American voters made up a large portion of the electorate, Hillary Clinton left Sanders in the dust. Three days after conceding the South Carolina primary by 48 points, he lost by overwhelming margins in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Arkansas. In Texas, where the majority of Democrats are nonwhite and 252 delegates were at stake, he lost by more than 30 points. Sanders banked heavily on strong performances in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Colorado, and Oklahoma, and he was counting on winning at least three of them. (He'd left South Carolina behind last week to campaign with Iron Range workers in Bob Dylan's hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota.) He did win three, along with his home state of Vermont, where just 26 delegates were at stake. But a loss in Massachusetts was a setback, and the enormous margins down South set him way back in the delegate count.
Tuesday's results put Sanders in a difficult position as the campaign shifts into high gear this month, because they challenge the underlying theory of how he can win. The premise of his underdog campaign was that he could score a few early victories and build momentum for states down the road. Once voters in those states saw he was the real deal, the thinking went, they'd give his candidacy a second look. Those early victories were essential to expanding his coalition and, to a lesser degree, to convincing at-large superdelegates to join his side. To put it bluntly: If Sanders can't win a white liberal state like Massachusetts, there aren't too many other states he can.
Things will get worse for Sanders before they get better. Because of the way the primary map is drawn, Clinton's best states—basically, Southern states with high African American populations—will all have voted by the middle of March.After Kansas, Nebraska, and Louisiana vote on Saturday (where the prospects are good, good, and very bad for Sanders, respectively),he'll hit a brutal two-week stretch in which 980 delegates will be awarded in Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio. Clinton is the clear favorite in almost all of those states.
But while Tuesday's performance might usher in the chorus of Clinton allies calling on him to drop out (as if they needed the excuse), Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, pledged that the campaign would push on to the convention. And he has the means to fight on if he wants. Money, the perennial candidate killer, is not an issue—at least not for now. Sanders raised an absurd $42 million in February—$6 million of it on the Monday after the South Carolina blowout. Because he relies so heavily on small-dollar donors who haven't hit the $2,700limit, he can in theory keep circling back for more money to buy ads and build organizations in every state that comes up. And if he can roll with the punches, he just might make it to the sweet spot of the schedule, a four-week, 15-state stretch that represents his last best shot to turn things around, starting with Idaho, Utah, and Arizona on March 22. If he can't reel off a winning streak then, it'll be over quick.
Sanders seems determined to push forward, but he has given little indication he'll try to replicate the kind of scorched-earth approach his opponent employed against Sen. Barack Obama eight years ago, or that the Republican field is currently employing against Donald Trump. He's not running again in four years, when he'll be 78; he's not angling for a spot on the ticket; and he's made clear he plans to support whomever the Democrats nominate.
Moments after he lost in South Carolina last Saturday, his campaign blasted out yet another fundraising email, this time with a message from the candidate. "When I first decided to run for president," he wrote, "my greatest fear was that if I were to run a poor campaign or did not do well, that it would be a setback not just for me, but for the ideas driving our campaign." It was a glossier version of what he'd told a reporter last March, months before he ever entered the race—that "if I do it, it has to be done well, and that's not just for my ego." He's done all of that and accomplished a great deal, but the math is looking pretty grim.
Hillary Clinton couldn't beat Barack Obama in South Carolina, so she did the next best thing. She worked for him.
The networks declared Clinton the winner of Saturday's South Carolina primary as soon as the polls closed on Saturday night, handing the former secretary of state a crushing victory in a state that her opponent, Bernie Sanders, had tried hard to win over but then mostly ignored in the final week of the race. Eight years after her 29-point loss to Obama here signaled the beginning of the end of her campaign (even if she didn't know it at the time), her victory over the Vermont senator was meant to make a broader statement about her opponent's viability in states that aren't solidly white.
Clinton's most powerful surrogates were the mothers of five African Americans who died in police custody or as a result of gun violence.
Just days away from Super Tuesday, Clinton poured her resources into the South's first primary state, dispatching her husband, Bill, back to the campaign trail. But her most powerful surrogates were the mothers of five African Americans who died in police custody or as a result of gun violence; they spoke to small groups at black churches in counties where Obama had run up some of his biggest margins. Clinton's strategy wasobvious: She won by doing everything she didn't do the last time. Clinton wrapped herself in the legacy of the man who defeated her. She talked relentlessly about gun control and systemic racism. And she tried to ease voters' lingering distrust by couching her message in deeply spiritual overtones here in the heart of the religious left. Hillary Clinton found religion in South Carolina, in the most literal sense.
Introducing the former first lady at a crowded black church in Florence on Thursday, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker mentioned "faith" 16 times in the final 90 seconds of his speech. Clinton picked up right where he left off. "I couldn't help but think about the many, many hours of my life that I have spent in a church like this one," she said.
"Somebody once asked me a long time ago when my husband was president if I was a praying person," she added, drawing a murmur from the crowd. "I said, 'Well, I am, but if you've ever lived in the White House you know you have to be—there's just no alternative to it.'" That got some laughs.
"And I think our country right now needs faithfulness, doesn't it?" said Clinton.
"Yes it does!" shouted an audience member.
The mothers' stops at churches in Holly Hill and Sumter began with prayer and delved into biblical understandings of trial and grief. Lucia McBath, the mother of the slain Florida teen Jordan Davis, told one audience that "we've turned away from God, and that is the reason why we're seeing what's happening in this country."
It helped that Clinton is a Methodist who can recite 1 Corinthians 13 from memory.
It was part of a pattern. A Clinton campaign ad airing in the state in the final week of the primary began with a lingering close-up shot of a church, as Morgan Freeman explains, "Her church taught her to do all the good you can for all the people you can, for as long as you can." A radio ad featured a black pastor who recalled reading his Bible at a bakery when Clinton walked in. "She gently asked me what was I studying," he said. "I said '1 Corinthians 13.' And what happened next, I'll never forget. She said, 'Love is patient, love is kind,' and went on to recite the rest of the verses by heart."
You find the voters where they are, and you speak to them in the language they speak, and in South Carolina, it means you go to a lot of churches. It helped, though, that Clinton is a Methodist who can recite 1 Corinthians 13 from memory, while Bernie Sanders is Jewish and doesn't like to talk about it. It wasn't pernicious, but it was real. On Sunday, Sanders made an unannounced visit, accompanied by former NAACP president Ben Jealous, to the historic Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia. He delivered a version of his stump speech and was greeted politely but unenthusiastically. Three days later, Clinton received a series of ovations at the same church while speaking to a luncheon of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters. She wanted to talk about second chances.
"At a CNN town hall, the poet laureate of South Carolina asked me about forgiveness," Clinton said. "I don't know if any of you were able to see it, but it may have been one of the more important questions I've been asked over the course of this campaign. What, she asked, could we do to try to promote the idea of forgiveness in our country? I told her I couldn't have been standing there without having been forgiven and learning how to forgive over the course of my life."
This time around, Clinton is intimating that her opponent's coalition is too white to win.
Clinton got some amens for that, but her biggest ovation, there and elsewhere, came when she talked about her good friend, President Barack Obama. Eight years ago, after Obama had won the overwhelming majority of African American voters in the state that she'd been counting on as a firewall, she shifted gears, making a protracted but doomed argument that her black opponent couldn't win white working-class voters like she could.
This time around, Clinton is intimating that her opponent's coalition is too white to win. She's casting herself as the natural follow-up to the Obama administration, pledging to back him up 100 percent on whomever he nominates for the Supreme Court and to protect the Affordable Care Act against Republican attacks. "We all worked hard to elect President Barack Obama eight years ago," an African American woman said in a radio ad paid for by Clinton's super-PAC. "We need a president who will build on all that President Obama has done. President Obama trusted Hillary Clinton to be America's secretary of state." Voters seemed to buy that argument; the most common explanation I heard from Obama backers as to why they'd moved to Clinton was the fact that she'd worked with him.
Sanders' campaign had worked for months to chip away at Clinton's lead in the state by exploiting a generational divide, as he had done with great success in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. He courted young, activist-minded African American voters at the state's historically black colleges, and in the final weeks he criticized his opponent's past support for welfare reform and the 1994 crime bill. But he seemed to recognize the long odds.
At Sanders' only South Carolina campaign rally of the week, a team of surrogates, including the rapper Killer Mike, told students at Claflin University, a historically black college, that Clinton had enabled a "genocide" of black youths and had told Black Lives Matter activists to "shut up." Killer Mike reminded them aboutan incident on Wednesday at a Clinton fundraiser in Charleston, where Clinton backers chided a young African American woman who had asked the candidate about her past use of the racially charged term "super-predators." When it was Sanders' turn, he told them that the Clinton administration's welfare reform efforts in the 1990s had doubled the number of Americans living in extreme poverty.
The voters Sanders was seeking were out there. Several I spoke with at Claflin brought up Sanders' embrace of Black Lives Matter and his civil rights activism in the 1960s. Another was leaning toward Sanders because the black academic Cornel West had come to Orangeburg to campaign on his behalf. Everyone wanted to hear more about Sanders' plan to make public universities free. There just weren't enough of those voters. As Sanders and his surrogates talked down the Clinton record and railed against money in politics and mass incarceration, the floor at Claflin was half empty, and the handful of students in the bleachers looked like they were killing time before dinner.
One reason for the poor showing? There was another rally happening across campus, at neighboring South Carolina State University—for Hillary Clinton.
With one day to go before the South Carolina primary, Bernie Sanders' surrogates unleashed some of their toughest attacks yet on Hillary Clinton.
During the Vermont senator's appearance at a historically black university, a string of speakers, including rapper Killer Mike, slammed the former secretary of state as a latecomer to racial justice who was taking African American voters for granted ahead of the South's first Democratic primary on Saturday.
On Friday, the rival Democratic candidates held events at two neighboring historically black colleges. As Clinton, introduced by Star Jones, spoke at a gym at South Carolina State University, Sanders backer Martese Johnson, told students at Bernie's Claflin University rally about Clinton's past.
"We have to understand that this genocide on black lives has been a thing for decades," said Johnson, who made national headlines last fall after he was bloodied by the police while trying to get into a Charlottesville bar. "And a candidate who's actually speaking to people nearby today was helpful in approving these things to happen [with] mass incarceration." (Johnson was referring to Clinton’s support as First Lady for President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill.)
Former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner kept the hits coming, attacking the idea that African American voters are, as the Clinton campaign has suggested, an electoral firewall against the Vermont senator as the campaign careens toward Super Tuesday.
"I want to know how you feel about somebody calling you their 'firewall'?" Turner asked. "You have to earn the black vote, you don't own the black vote! We are the only ethnic group that people have already presupposed where we are going to be, and that is wrong, you have to earn this thing."
The toughest talk, though, came from Killer Mike, the Atlanta rapper, who came under fire last week for relating the story of a woman who said women shouldn't vote for Clinton just because she has a uterus. Sanders accused his friend's critics of playing "gotcha politics." Killer Mike never explained to the crowd at Claflin what it was he'd said to piss people off, but his first words on stage were an inside joke that alluded to the controversy: "Let me pull out the list of words I cannot say."
Killer Mike said he wasn't just personally grateful Sanders hadn't condemned his remarks; he believed Sanders' decision not to demonstrated presidential leadership.
"Since [he was] a teenager and as a young adult he has fought for the rights of people who don't look like him, who are not from where he's from, who are not from his socioeconomic background," Killer Mike said.
"And just last week, when given the opportunity to separate himself from a black guy who said something that other people didn't like, he stood on his integrity and his convictions," he said. "That means when you're in office and a hard decision is gonna be made, you're gonna think about the people you talked with as well."
He didn't reprise his "uterus" comments, but he had plenty to say about Clinton. The Democratic front-runner, or at least her supporters, had been rude to an African American who questioned her past statements on crime, Killer Mike told students.He contrasted that with an early moment in the campaign when Sanders handed his microphone to two Black Lives Matter activists at a rally in Seattle.
"That is a firm difference from turning around and staring at a little black girl and saying, 'Shut up, I'll talk to you later, you're being rude.'" It was just as bad to allow "other people to say it to her," he said.
The rapper also went on to praise Sanders' work during the civil rights movement. "If I can find a picture of you from 51 years ago chained to a black woman protesting segregation, and I know 51 years later you're gonna close your arms…and listen to two black girls yell and scream—rightfully so." (Sanders was arrested at a civil rights demonstration when he was a student at the University of Chicago in the 1960s*.)
"As opposed to someone who will tell you 'later,' when it comes to your children dying in the streets," the rapper said. "I know the only person that I have the conscience to vote for is Bernard Sanders."
Sanders thanked Killer Mike and the speakers who preceded him "for their calm and quiet introductions," but the Vermont senator not did not elaborate on their comments. Instead, he dove into a more casual version of his standard stump speech, hitting voting rights, police violence, student debt, and the corrupting influence of super-PACs. He kept a lighter tone with the mostly college-age crowd.
When his microphone briefly cut out, he quipped, "it's my electrifying personality."
Sanders received a warm welcome from his audience, which was uncharacteristically small for a candidate used to a rock-star reception on college campuses. Although his campaign has worked hard to organize at historic black colleges and universities and made previous trips to Orangeburg, one side of the bleachers was entirely empty and the other was a quarter full; there was plenty of space to move around on the floor. That may not bode well for Sanders' chances on Saturday—the most recent polls put him about 20 points back.
But if a win feels like a long shot, Sanders' aggressive event on Friday was meant to show a commitment to improvement going forward. As Killer Mike put it, "The goddamn firewall has a crack in it."
Correction: This piece originally misidentified the photo Killer Mike was referring to.
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, the only black Democrat in the Senate, took a subtle jab at Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Thursday for ignoring issues affecting African Americans in his own state of Vermont.
Campaigning for Hillary Clinton at a black church in Florence, South Carolina, on Thursday, Booker fired up the crowd with invocations of past violence against African Americas—from "gas and billy clubs" on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to the martyred teenager Emmett Till—while framing Clinton as the only candidate in the race voters could trust to fix the criminal justice system. "If you don't mind all this talk in this campaign about race, I want to get real with y'all for a minute," Booker said. His support for Clinton, he explained to the church audience, was because "she was here when it wasn't election time. I'm here because she was supporting criminal justice reform before it was [popular] to talk about it on the campaign trail."
In case the contrast he was trying to draw wasn't clear, Booker got more specific. "This is not just a South Carolina issue," he said. "I don't care what state you come from. Heck, Vermont! People told me, 'Cory, they don't have black people in Vermont.' I'm sorry to tell you this, there are 50 states; we got black people in every state! That's true!"
He continued, "And the problems of racial disparity did not begin in this campaign. They go deep in every state. Vermont has 1 percent African Americans. But their prison population is 11 percent black! You want to speak about injustice—I see campaigns and candidates running all over this country. Don't you come to my communities, talk about how much you care, talk your passion for criminal justice, and then I don't hear from you after an election. And I didn't hear from you before the election!"
Clinton has focused on winning black voters in counties where she lost big to Barack Obama (including Florence County, where Obama beat her by 42 points), emphasizing Sanders' votes against gun control measures and her friendship with a group of African American women who lost their children to gun violence or in police custody. But her aggressive push on criminal justice is in part defensive; she's been criticized on the left for supporting, among other things, welfare reform and the 1994 crime bill. At a fundraiser in Charleston on Wednesday night, she was confronted by a young black woman about comments she'd made as First Lady in support of the crime bill, alleging that "super-predators" were threatening urban communities. Clinton said on Thursday, "I shouldn't have used those words."
Barack Obama's last campaign stop of the 2008 South Carolina primary was a five-minute cameo at the "Pink Ice Gala" in Columbia, hosted by Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation's oldest African American sorority. The senator from Illinois was reluctant to attend, the New York Times later reported, but his consigliere, Valerie Jarrett, was insistent. "You want to win, don't you?" she asked. "Well then, you need to go to Pink Ice."
Obama did win South Carolina, and it wasn't because he stopped at Pink Ice. But it was a useful symbol for why he won. Over the final weeks before the primary, college-educated African American women who were supposed to be one of Clinton's core constituencies—former President Bill Clinton had himself courted Alpha Kappa Alpha members months earlier—broke for Obama in large numbers, with 80 percent of black women in the state voting for him over Hillary Clinton.
To state the obvious: Clinton would like to avoid that scenario on Saturday, as she tries to fight off another primary challenge from an underdog senator. With her opponent, Bernie Sanders, spending most of the week campaigning in other states, she hunkered down, sending five African American mothers whose children lost their lives in police custody or to gun violence to speak to church groups in places like Orangeburg County (where she lost by 42 percentage points in 2008) and Sumter (which she lost by 53). She's stumping with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in the state's impoverished "corridor of shame" along I-95, and she's booking trips to churches and historically black colleges and universities. Her husband flew in for a last-minute blitz in predominantly white cities.
They don't just want to win; they want to win in a way that shows Sanders can't. So with three days to go before the South's first primary, Clinton did what people who want to win do: She put on the sorority's colors (or a green coat, anyway) and went to talk to some Alphas.